A spot in the Elite Eight is up for grabs Thursday night when the Michigan Wolverines, the 2-seed in the West Region, face the 3-seed Texas Tech Red Raiders. The game is in Anaheim with the Wolverines favored by 1.5 points.
Texas Tech, the regular season co-champions in the Big 12, have had a relatively easy time in this tournament. The Red Raiders earned a comfortable 15-point win over Northern Kentucky in the first round and then dominated Buffalo in the second round. Tech’s defense shut down the high-scoring Bulls in a 78-58 win, giving them a second straight trip to the Sweet 16.
It was a similar story for Michigan, as the Wolverines cruised to a 74-55 win over Montana in the first round and then pulled away late against Florida in the Round of 32. Michigan now has 30 wins on the season and is going to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year and the fifth time in the last seven seasons.
A Little Sluggish
Despite a pair of double-digit wins last weekend, the Michigan offense isn’t exactly clicking at the moment. The Wolverines shot just 32% from 3-point range during the first two rounds of the tournament. Plus, Jordan Poole is the only player to score in double figures in both tournament games. That’s not exactly a winning formula in the Sweet 16, even if the Wolverines are tough on the defensive end.
To be fair, complementary players like Jon Teske, Zavier Simpson, and Isaiah Livers have come on strong late in the year. Those three have helped to balance out Michigan’s scoring, putting less pressure on Poole, Charles Matthews, and Ignas Brazdeikis to carry the load. However, the Texas Tech defense is good enough to take Michigan’s supporting cast out of the game, forcing their stars to play like stars. Poole has been reliable, but Matthews needs to shake off a late-season slump, and the freshman Brazdeikis will have to step up in order for Michigan to advance.
Both Sides Now
As mentioned, Texas Tech’s suffocating defense has been the key to their success during the first two rounds. After stifling a good Northern Kentucky team, the Red Raiders held a Buffalo team that averaged 84 points per game during the season to just 58 points. The Texas Tech defense slowed down several of Buffalo’s scorers, forced 16 turnovers, and dominated on the boards in what may be the most impressive win of the tournament any team has had thus far.
Meanwhile, the Red Raiders played one of their best offensive games of the season. All five starters scored in double figures against Buffalo. For the most part, it’s been on Jarrett Culver and his 19 points per game to carry the Texas Tech offense, but when the Red Raiders get scoring from other sources, they can be a different team.
Defense Wins Out
Both teams are good defensively, but Texas Tech took things to another level last week. Michigan has been vulnerable this year when one of their big three of Brazdeikis, Matthews, and Poole struggle to score. The Red Raiders are likely to make that happen, putting themselves in a position to win. In what amounts to a PK, bet on Texas Tech to beat Michigan.